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338                                                                                                     B. POLEVOI
But what is there to be glad about? You can believe me,
I would much rather fly with real feet than with these.
But it can't be helped. It turned out that way." The air-
man sighed and added: "To be exact, the history of avia-
tion does know such cases."
He fumbled in his map case and fished out a magazine
clipping, torn and tattered and stuck together on a sheet
of cellophane. It told about an airman who had lost a
foot and yet had piloted a plane.
"But he had one foot. And besides, he did not fly a
fighter plane, but an ancient Tarman'," I said.
"But I am a Soviet airman," came the reply. "Only
don't think I am boasting. Those are not my words. They
were spoken to me by a very good, a real man" (he laid
special stress on the word "real"). "He is dead now."
An expression of sweet, tender sorrow crossed the air-
man's broad, energetic face, his eyes shone with a kind,
clear light, his face looked at least ten years younger,
almost youthful, and to my surprise I realised that the
man, whom only a moment ago I had taken to be middle-
aged, was scarcely twenty-three.
"I hate to have people ask me what, and when, and
how it happened.... But just now it all comes back to
me..,. You are a stranger to me. We'll say good-bye
tomorrow and may never meet again-----If you like, I'll
tell you the story about my feet."
He sat up in his bunk, drew his blanket up to his chin
and began his story. He seemed to be thinking aloud and
to have entirely forgotten about me; but he told the story
well and vividly. It was evident that he had a keen mind,
a good memory and a big heart. Realising at once that
I was about to hear something important and unprece-
dented, and what I might not hear again, I snatched up
from the table a school exercise book which bore the
inscription on the cover "Log of the Combat Flights of
Squadron Three", and began to take down what he
said.
The night glided imperceptibly over the woods. The
lamp on the table spluttered and hissed, and many an
incautious moth that had scorched its wings in its flame
lay around it. At first the strains of an accordion were
wafted to our ears by the breeze. Then the wailing of the